“The Ransom of Miss Coraline Connelly” by Alix E. Harrow (1480 words)
No Spoilers: Framed as a series of letters authored by Queen Jaref the Third, Empress of the Black Realms, to Constance, a young mother, the piece outlines a situation that will likely be a bit familiar to some. A faerie kidnapping. A ransom to be paid with time, with nine years of Constance’s life. A decision to make. But from there the story doesn’t trace the familiar lines. Because Constance isn’t in the familiar situation, isn’t at first sure how to react, has been struggling with postpartum depression and bills and all number of things that might make her daughter being kidnapped by a magical being almost seem like a stroke of luck for everyone involved. Jaref is struck by it, though, and it resonates in her, makes her keep reaching out, keep sending messages to Constance. Until she gets through, though the fallout from that, the aftermath, isn’t what anyone might have expected. It’s a tender and fun read, captured with a charming voice and a wonderful subversion of tropes.
Keywords: Faeries, Bargains, Children, CW- Depression, Letters, Queer MC
Review: This story is both a lot of fun and a real emotional punch, because it takes this kind of campy, familiar fantasy thing (Labyrinth! woo!!!), which already had some grimness to it, and complicating that. Because the idea of a child being kidnapped and then ransomed back isn’t exactly a happy one. It’s terrifying. But the expectation of those stories is that the mother (or sister, or babysitter, or etc) will find a way to win back their child without having to pay the price. It’s a game, and even the fae seem to know that. There’s the expectation of the dance, the struggle, and when Jaref doesn’t get that, she really isn’t ready for it. Because it turns out she’s stumbled into something much more grim than even her game of stealing children. Because Constance is deeply depressed, dealing with a host of stresses on top of being a (presumably) single mom and all that comes with it. So it’s not a story about Constance finding her gumption and coming out of her depression through pluck and determination for the sake of her child. And I love that the story is aware of that line of attack, that Jaref herself takes it before backing off, before understanding what exactly is going on. And she doesn’t stop reaching out, doesn’t stop trying to get to Constance. Not to “fix” her and not to use her baby as leverage to change her, but to just...help. To give her not a magical cure except that she uses magic to ease some of Constance’s burdens, and takes on some of the work, to give Constance time to recover and maybe heal. Which is exactly what she needs, and it’s such a wonderful moment where both Jaref and Constance sort of find each other and find a way to reach together for what will help them both. It doesn’t minimize or dismiss what’s happening with Constance while still grounding the narrative through the letters of Jaref, and through the slow shift the story manages a deep emotional journey that really hits. A fantastic read!
“The Spice Market” by Sangeetha Thanapal (1726 words)
No Spoilers: Amaya is a girl sent to the spice market to buy coriander for her mother. On her way back, though, she overhears an interesting conversation and decides to listen in a bit more closely. The drama that unfolds is around a European and a group of local merchants (the story takes place in Thanjavur). The European has some spice he wants to sell. And not just sell, but enter into a relationship supplying it to the local market. It seems there’s a large supply of it just “opened up” in what will become South America. The piece builds around this historical moment without speculative element, instead focusing on the weight of what happens, the ways that colonial atrocities were truly global, feeding and fed by so much. Through it, Amaya is a spectator, an unwitting participant in something she can’t really understand, and perhaps pivotal in adding momentum to a tragedy that is going on unseen.
Keywords: Spices, Family, Trade, Colonization, Food, Markets
Review: I like how this story unfolds, taking a situation that has enormous historical weight and rendering it without. As in some ways this rather light story of a girl at market overhearing something she might shouldn’t have and getting involved with a change that alters a lot. That shifts global markets at a time when that concept was starting to get really complicated and traumatic thanks to European colonization of what would become known as the Americas. Under the seeming innocence of the situation, though, Amaya thinking that a spice would go well in some food, there is the larger tapestry that’s weaved into, where the spice is coming from a place being brutally invaded, where people are being murdered, enslaved, and otherwise used to line the pockets of the Europeans. There is the hint of this in the way that Amaya’s uncle questions the situation surrounding the spice, but it’s a worry that is quickly brushed aside. For me it shows that here is this instance of incredible interconnectedness. All in spice. All in trade. All in the things those institutions hide and obfuscate. It’s a complicated reading, for all the action and plots are straightforward. It hides a lot, and for me invites a deep reading, a careful consideration. The history it brushes is something grim and violent, and for all that, also full of flavor, life, and family. A great read!
“Bury Me Standing” by Dora Klindžić (1051 words)
No Spoilers: This story follows a pair of cities, Neograd, in the sky, where the wealthy live. And Beograd, below, where the factories are. And on the outskirts of Beograd, the Roma camps, where the workers in the factory live and try their best to thrive. Mostly they just get by, though, as the conditions in the factories aren’t good and the situations of the Roma never seem to improve. Still, there is song, and there is work, and there is hope, which the story captures well, as the people work to build the robotic servants for the wealthy of Neograd. It’s a yearning read, full of the ways the Roma take strength from song and community, carving what joy they can from the hostile environment.
Keywords: Robots, Factories, Employment, Servitude, Songs
Review: This is a rather difficult read, for the ways that it captures the hardship and the prejudice that people face who are deemed outsiders, other, expendable. Workers who don’t have many rights, who the managers aren’t really sorry to lose if there’s an accident. Who are seen most as thieves, and who have to deal with that extra level of scrutiny. Who make their homes, though, where they can, and who hope all the same to be able to provide for their families and give their young people as good a chance as they can. It’s not often much, but through it all there is song, and the wish that some day it might change, might be different. It’s a hope that’s passed down, sadly and not. Sadly because things don’t seem to change. Because the cycle just seems to keep on turning, crushing people. Because for all the work they do, the things they accomplish, the joy they manage to squeeze from the concrete of the factories and the city, they are still outsiders, still treated like garbage, still killed, still marginal. But it’s not because it does keep that hope alive, and maybe change is coming. At least, the piece seems to open up something with the robots being created. That maybe those robots have imprinted on the Roma. And maybe there will come a time when they can join together, when they can flex their power, when they can find something that is theirs and only theirs. When they can be free, standing. It’s a difficult piece but a wonderful one. Definitely go give it a read!
“Even the Clearest Water” by Andi C. Buchanan (1526 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a faerie, or a member of the Fair Folk, a being who can exist as water, as a bird. A being who spends a lot of their time saving humans from drowning. But the rescue is not free. They make bargains for the act. So when they pull a young autistic girl, Cora, from the river she’s fallen into, there’s a price that must be paid. And it might be up to Cora’s mother, Rosalind, to pay. Or to argue her way out of. Rosalind’s no stranger to the bargains, after all, having met the narrator when she was young. And the two come to a new understanding, striking a bargain that will suit them both, neither of them quick willing to voice the reasons why they both are eager to offer, and to accept. The piece is grounded in the complex realities of grief, pain, and relief. It’s complex, and necessarily so, even while at its core it couldn’t be simpler—a story of a two people reaching out through loneliness and distance toward community and family.
Keywords: Waters, CW- Suicide, Rescues, Bargains, Family, Fair Folk
Review: I love the way this story complicates fae bargains. Because while they’re called the Fair Folk, rarely do their bargains seem so to humans. Because they operate on different scales, different priorities. Because it’s often more about what a human gives up rather than what the fae gains. For the narrator, they pull humans from the water in part because of what they might gain, but mostly it seems because they don’t want the humans to die. They care, for all they’re not supposed to show that. And in many ways I feel that the story is this delightful negotiation where the two sides, the narrator and Rosalind, are trying to hide that what they want is something that goes beyond bargains. The formal constraints are, well, a formality, and one that protects them from having to reveal that they really want something. That they want the other one to chose to be with them without it being a bargain. And they seem to me to understand that without saying it, both of them working within the rules of the bargain to escape those rules, finding in each other an equal who they don’t want to cheat, that they don’t want to swindle. The process here really is fair, for all that it takes the form of a process that is typically about one side being cheated. They find a way to be good to each other, to help without necessarily being asked, and to care without there being an obligation to, just because they are people who care. And though the system might cast that as weakness, they know in their hearts that there’s such strength and beauty and joy there that they both make a deal they know isn’t on the level. Because they both gain too much. It’s a wonderful exploration and twist on the fae trope, and so very worth checking out. A wonderful read!